15
Oct

tampa-florida-interactive-theater-review-the-vault-of-souls
Tampa, Florida: Interactive Theater Review: The Vault of Souls

Thankfully Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit where I was in Orlando directly, so general pre-hurricane chaos, losing a couple of haunt days, and having to drive 20+ hours out of my way (OMG) to get home because 95 North was flooded was the maximum impact we experienced.

Yeah – my back still hurts days later. :( This is why the reviews are coming out slower. The hurricane really impacted us.

Orange County lifted the curfew just in time for me to get to Tampa on Friday, October 7th, 2016 to see The Vault of Souls for their second year of operation. Time to go haunting!

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I reviewed them last year and was very impressed at that time. I felt like it was an amazing start to an innovative show. I was extremely pleased that they did it again. Did I mention that they they won an Innovation award from us? Yep.

What was it like this year?

This year they took the concept up to the next level with some great alterations and additions. First, let’s talk about what The Vault of Souls is if you haven’t read my previous review. It’s Interactive / Immersive Theatre; a haunted experience located in a Tampa landmark that also draws upon the local history.

“The Exchange National Bank opened in 1923 to protect the worldly possessions of Tampa’s High Society. The founders of the bank soon discovered that there was also a desire to protect their clients’ “other-worldly” possessions as well. After consulting with the most prestigious psychics and local native Shaman, they were able to invoke “The Vault of Souls”. This paranormal purgatory was constructed in the basement of the bank and became the safe haven for carefully selected souls. To this day, Tampa’s elite gather in October, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, to enter this mysterious vault. For some it is a brief visit. For others, it is an eternity.”

This is not a startle scare chainsaw fest. There are no startle scares in here whatsoever. If you enjoy theatrical haunts OR don’t care for scary things but enjoy theatre, this is for you. Yes, even your friend who hates haunts will like this as long as they enjoy fun.

Harknell and I love it.

You start off in “The Arrival”, which is a bar area with live music, dancers, and people serving small bites of food. The food is included with your admission, the alcohol is not.

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Shepherd’s Pie and Shrimp and Grits:

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The Vault Ventilator, their specialty drink:

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bar

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You wait here until your name is called. Characters will interact with you up here, which is new this year and a great addition. I encountered a clown, fortune teller, researcher, and at least 1 other from the time period. They have added enhanced effects and animated ghost projections on the wall.

projections

When your name is called you enter “The Ritual”. Before you enter you get to watch 2 ghosts do a waltz, and then you enter in small groups. You have the ability to wander around for as long as you want, exploring, solving puzzles, and piecing together the story. Remember adventure video games in the 90s? This is that in real life. I freaking loved those type of games.

You get to go deeper into the story of Lucy, whose soul was kept in the Vault by her parents. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee to join her there so you run into their ghosts looking for Lucy. A particularly unsettling scene added this year was Lucy’s Mom done with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. Mad props to that.

They don’t cram people inside. We were in there for over an hour and didn’t get to everything that we could have done – this year there is so much more that you can do inside. You”ll notice some similarities with last year’s show but they have expanded almost everything. There are now several quests you can complete in order to find out pieces of the story. I didn’t complete all of them but I did ask Creative Director Scott Swenson if they could all be completed if we had stayed longer. He told me that yes, every quest has an ending and something that happens. Cool!

After you choose to leave you go upstairs to the Gin Joint, just like last year. I’m told that they may make the Gin Joint a year-round thing. This makes me happy because it’s a gorgeous space. This year they had a couple of (amazing!!!) live singers and several more folks in costume. I didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ work, but here are some shots of the Gin Joint decor, which I loved:

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gin joint 4

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Upstairs they also had the gelato, coffee, and fortune tellers like last year in “The Readers’ Clearing”. They upgraded that space with …well…look:

ghost

When you leave you get to keep your mask and you get a book of poetry written by Scott Swenson. The book is the second volume, so it is new for this year. Women get roses:

gifts

I particularly liked that they alter your mask depending on what quests you do and how you interact with the actors. I interacted with the dentist and the seductress. I hope they add more to the mask alteration and really go nuts with it next year. That would be cool – and majorly appeal to my love of wearable, fluid, performance art.

If you require glasses to see I highly recommend that you wear contacts when you go here because of the mask. I thought I could get away with having my glasses under the mask, but I wouldn’t do that again. Because after surgery I now require progressive lenses which can’t be done in contact lenses easily I’ll just wear my single vision contacts and bring a magnifying glass to be able to read with next year. :D (I am still learning how to interact with the world after my eye surgery.)

Tickets are $100 plus a $5 service fee. Our tickets were complimentary, but even if I weren’t a writer I would have paid to go see this show. Arrive about an hour early so that you can properly eat, drink, and interact with the actors in The Arrival. The cost includes the food – and the food is extremely good. If you show up just before your arrival time I feel that you will probably not get all that you should be getting out of the experience. This is a high end elegant night out and every year they keep setting the bar higher and higher. This is where I am seeing true innovation and creativity thrive.

Since Tampa may be my future home I am very happy that the arts are thriving in Tampa and elevating the city’s history and capabilities. I feel that too many people just go to the theme parks in Orlando and fail to look just an hour southwest at the city of Tampa. Tampa has so much to offer, is always the place I have my most memorable vacation days at, and The Vault of Souls is solid proof of that.

You really should…DO THIS ONE!



Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.

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